The parents of two admittedly disabled children who suffered from Down Syndrome brought suit against their homeowners association, with an HOA FHA discrimination claim based on the associations refusal to allow the homeowners to construct a sunroom addition to their home. The homeowners alleged that the sunroom would serve to alleviate some of the problems experienced by their children. The homeowners filed their suit in their individual capacities and as “next friends” of the children. The district court dismissed their personal-capacity claims after finding that the homeowners lacked standing to sue in their individual capacities and granted the association summary judgment on the “next of friend” claim.
The appellate court stated that an FHA reasonable-modification plaintiff, like an FHA reasonable-accommodation plaintiff, must prove both the reasonableness and necessity of the requested modification. The necessity element is essentially a causation inquiry that examines whether the requested accommodation or modification would redress injuries that otherwise would prevent a disabled resident from receiving the same enjoyment from the property as a non-disabled person would receive. In short, the plaintiff asserting an FHA reasonable-accommodation or reasonable-modification claim must show that, but for the requested accommodation or modification, he or she will likely be denied an equal opportunity to enjoy the housing of his or her choice. The plaintiff must also prove that he or she suffers from a disability, that they requested an accommodation or modification, that the defendant housing provider refused to make the accommodation or to permit the modification, and that the defendant knew or should have known of the disability at the time of the refusal.
The court also commented that the crux of a reasonable-accommodation or reasonable-modification claim typically will be the question of reasonableness. To determine the reasonableness of the requested modification, the burden that the requested modification would impose on the defendant (and perhaps on persons or interests whom the defendant represents) must be weighed against the benefits that would accrue to the plaintiff. A modification should be deemed reasonable if it “imposes no ‘fundamental alteration in the nature of a program’ or ‘undue financial and administrative burdens.’ It should be expected that a defendant (the HOA in this case) must incur reasonable costs and take modest, affirmative steps to accommodate the handicapped as long as the accommodations sought do not pose an undue hardship or a substantial burden.
The appellate court reversed the district court decision finding that the plaintiffs had standing to bring the action under the FHA. Recovery under the FHA is not limited to “persons who are directly and immediately subjected to discrimination.” Congress intended standing under the FHA to extend to the “full limits” of Article III of the United States Constitution, and accordingly an FHA plaintiff need only allege a “distinct and palpable injury” caused by the defendant’s actions.
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decision (July 29, 2014).
See case decision: Hollis v. Chestnut Bend Homeowners Association et al.